Should We Be Interested In 'Saving' Any Industry?

from the forward-or-backwards dept

We hear it all the time, whenever anyone talks about an industry being "destroyed" by new technologies: "how do we save x industry?" where "x" can stand for "recording" or "news" or "movies" or whatever. We saw it just recently when a professor wanted to "save" the newspaper industry by changing copyright law in ridiculous ways. It's also why we jokingly called our last event "Techdirt Saves* Journalism." The whole concept of "saving" an industry is so preposterous, which is why we wanted to mock it with the title of our event. I was reminded of this when reading this recap of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) event, where Dan Gillmor was quoted saying:
"I'm not even slightly interested in saving the industry."
And it got me thinking about understanding the mindset of "saving" an industry more deeply. The truth is, whenever anyone seriously (not mockingly) refers to "saving" an industry, invariably, they're really talking about saving a few legacy companies in that industry from whatever disruptive innovation is shaking things up. It's never actually about "saving an industry," because the "industry" almost never actually needs to be saved. The industry may be in the process of being changed (often radically), but that's not the same thing as needing saving.

What's telling is that, through all of this, you almost never hear start-ups talking about asking for help trying to "save the industry" that they're in. That's because they know "the industry" is just fine, and in all of the upheaval there's really tremendous opportunity. So, anytime anyone talks seriously about "saving" any particular industry, challenge them on what they really mean, and see if they're actually just talking about saving a few companies, rather than saving an actual "industry."

Filed Under: industry, progress, protectionism, saving


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  1. icon
    TtfnJohn (profile), 20 Aug 2010 @ 1:58pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Where is this ride going to end?

    I hate to tell you this that the first store that starts to use RFID that I shop at will lose my business right there and then.

    That said, he does say that technological change does create new pitfalls and opportunities. And it is highly disruptive. My trade, for example, has moved from being primarily manual to overwhelmingly mental in the 35 years I've done it. I'm now what you call a knowledge worker or techologist. Mind you the manual part of the job is still there and still necessary but it's not the whole thing.

    Voice recognition, as I said is an order of millions of times more difficult to handle with rule based programming, and all of it is at one stage or another, because human language like the creature that uses it changes contanstantly.

    English, in spite of efforts to enforce such things as "proper" grammar and "real" words changes yearly on an order of half a million words, according to the OED, a few of which stay in use long enough to actually get included in the global edition. Slang changes more frequently and often. The list of definitions for words in English lengthens daily. Inflection changes meaning. Word order changes meaning sometimes drastically. In English, in comparison to Romance languages and the Germanic languages from which it came, word order is of ultimate importance because you can change meaning in ways those languages can't by a combination of word order AND inflection.

    English speakers handle all this with ease. I'm not sure a computer can when part of the inflection, in English, may also be the tone of voice and the expression on the speakers face.

    Take a simple phrase. Two one syllable words which can drastically change meaning depending on how it's said and the tone of voice and expression. "Fuck you". Beyond that I don't think I need to point out that if it's said with a smile and light tone of voice it means something else than said another way. Emphasize the first word with the smile and light tone of voice it's light joking banter. Said the same way with emphasis on the second word it's still in the same ball park but often as a warning the listener they've gotten to close to crossing a line. Things are ok but it's still time to back off a little. Said with an angry tone of voice and with the emphasis on the second word you've definitely cross the line Expression has changed to angry but is still several steps from hostile. Said louder and still angrily with the emphasis on the second word the expression is likely to be angry bordering on rage. Said with emphasis on both words sound is more rage filled bordering on hostile and you need the clue of facial expression to fill it on. Loudly with emphasis on both words a native English speaker knows full well that either the fight is on or it's time to apologize and slink off. The expression is the last factor here if it's rage and hostility then there's usually not much choice in the matter unless you grovel.

    Worse are languages in the Chinese group of languages including Japanese where inflection and darned near everything including meaning with facial expression filling in what's left over.

    Have a storage medium the size of the moon to store all that always changing data on?

    At the moment, as I said, voice recognition technology is barely able to understand small phrases said with flat intonation in "standard" English (whatever the hell that is) and not much else.

    I don't think that will change in my lifetime or that of my child's.

    The problem is that humans are comfortable with natural language not constructs that program designers would need to impose. That's been reinforced repeatedly over time, particularly with English speakers who resent and repel almost all attempts to standardize the language. Humans are, bless us, irrational and emotional not logical results of if/then/else constructs.

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